When people think of having a home birth these days, their first thoughts are often to find a midwife, who will support their decision to give birth at home, and be there as a potential safety net.
And now, many hospitals have their own on-staff midwives.
In the times since 99% of women used to give birth at home with or without any outside assistance, in the early 1900s, to now, where only 1% of women give birth at home, a lot has changed.
The modern midwife has become more of a “med-wife” than a mid-wife.
The definition of mid-wife means to “be with” woman.
There was an honouring of her intrinsic process, and that of birth itself, that this, the very life force of the universe, would know how to bring itself to fruition.
Just like the creation and growth of a baby within a woman.
She is required to do nothing CONSCIOUSLY other than, in the best of circumstances, provide a nutrient-rich—and by this I mean both the physical food and also the emotional nurturance of love, joy and peace as “nutrients” in the container for her child to grow.
One path holds that birth is natural and if we stand back to give the process a “wide berth” B-E-R-T-H, then it actually functions BEST that way: Undisturbed or interfered with.
The other approach is MAXIMUM interference at every possible juncture. From pregnancy tests to injections straight out of the womb.
The dominant messaging from the medical profession, which midwives have been largely co-opted into, is that YOU do not have the power.
Women have been brainwashed into thinking they need permission and instructions to do this themselves.
The midwife, who used to be a champion for a woman, whose role WAS to be encouragement and support, has now transformed into an interventionist.
Instead of reinforcing the trust in a woman’s own body and ability, that trust has now shifted to tests, ultrasound radiation to “SEE” into the body, IVs and surgery.
Every invasion there can be, is done.
The med-wife has now become complicit in this strategy and is an instrument for this transfer of power.
And rather a sly one, relying on a woman’s misunderstanding of what a midwife used to do and be, and now what she actually is.
I see women currently utilizing the “state-funded” midwives available for “free” — NOTHING is for free!! — who are placating her and keeping her invested in the hospital and allopathic system.
Every single time a woman steps into a hospital for her “checkups” during pregnancy, these scenarios reinforce the notion that birth is an illness needing to be managed.
Every single test a woman submits to, every time she lets her “doctor” shove his hands ritualistically into her vagina, she is signalling, and having imprinted on the CORE of her body — her cervix — that she is NOT in charge.
Someone, or the entire insinuation of obstetrical intervention, is.
Inevitably, most people who participate in the theatre of endless “testing” and monitoring of their pregnancies, will end up with a hospital birth, and usually a “crisis” one, because that’s the nature of most hospital births.
“Oh, if we didn’t give her the Pitiocin, the IV, the epidural, the C-section”, she wouldn’t have made it.
OR the baby wouldn’t have.
You really think that the human body is that inept?
Or is the entire hospital brith process DESIGNED to make it seem that way?
This is a quote from an American doctor in 1938:
“if these facts can be substantiated, if this information can be promulgated, if females can be induced to believe that their sufferings will be diminished or shortened, and their lives and those of their offspring be safer in the hands of the profession, there will be no further difficulty in establishing the universal practice of Obstetrics.
All the prejudices of the most ignorant and nervous female all the innate and acquired feelings of delicacy so characteristic of the sax will afford no obstacle to the employment of male practitioners.”
~ Dr. Hodge
Once you have that heavily invested in their ideology, it’s pretty hard to escape it.
You either believe and trust that your body can do this.
Or that it can’t. And you need help doing it.
Birth then either becomes an initiation into your own power, autonomy and sovereignty, or it becomes a massive imprinting on your psyche and body of the outsourcing of it.
We have truly minimized the power and importance of birth in our modern culture.
Once revered as the most powerful act a human being could facilitate—the giving of new life, the one who stands at the doorway of life and death, faces that precipice, and overcomes it—as the most potent spiritual test and awakening a human could ever have, has been relegated to a TV-caricature of a woman panting, screaming and, “OH THANK GOD YOUR HERE” a doctor/priest-like figure coming in to save the day.
“You, little girl, PATS ON THE HEAD, you couldn’t possibly be up to the task.”
“LET US DO IT FOR YOU.”
The cost of “letting someone do it for you” is the big lie.
This is the source of postpartum depression, of learned powerlessness, of a lifetime of parenting struggles, because you let “Someone else do it for you’.
The initiation of birth is the very act that brings you into the full power you NEED to be an effective parent.
To be so sure and grounded in yourself, that you can hold space for the wildness and chaos and tests of parenting, because you went through them during birth.
And came out the other side.
The point I’m making here, is that your birth experience is one of the biggest gifts and opportunities of your life.
Yes, not only because your child comes into being, but because it’s a spiritual awakening for you.
If you choose it to be.
Or it can be something that sets you back into unconsciousness victimhood.
I’m speaking bluntly about this, because I don’t pay homage to the cultural trend of not taking responsibility and giving away power.
That said, I fully acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know.
So in the past, if we didn’t know, we forgive ourselves and move on.
But as we learn and KNOW these things, the onus is on us to take action, make courageous choices and step away from the path most trodden, to forge our own.
In the realm of birth, this often looks like naysayers both cultural, familial and medical, telling you “YOU can’t do this.”
Or, rather, you can’t do it on your own. You need a complete strangers hands in your vagina or their knives in your belly.
The choice is yours.
You can do it. But the road to getting there is a test in itself, and requires your own courage and spiritual strength.
IN today’s episode, I’m speaking with Yolande Norris Clark. She’s a writer, holistic birth witness, teacher, coach, and mentor.
She’s given birth to eight children—at home—and six of those entirely free-birthed, which means she had no “professional” medical interference during her pregnancies or birth.
And she has another baby on the way.
I interviewed Yolande a few years back on the podcast in the Natural Birth = Ecstatic Birth episode.
She’s back today to talk on Med-wives vs.Midwives, and all things empowered birth.
I’ve watched her emerge in the last 18 months as a strong voice, speaking out about things most people will not dare to think, let alone dare to say.
And my admiration for her bravery and eloquence has grown all the more.
KIM: Welcome, Yolande. It’s wonderful to have you here.
YOLANDE: Thank you so much for having me, Kim. I’m delighted to be here.
KIM: Let’s dive right in and talk about a statement that you have made, which is that midwifery is dead. Tell us why you think that and what the difference is between a midwife and a med-wife.
YOLANDE: Wow, yeah, midwifery is dead. “Long live midwifery” is actually the full statement. [Laughs] What I mean is that in my view, authentic midwifery will never die. I see authentic midwifery as a calling, a vocation, an embodiment, a spiritual practice, but it’s also just a completely normal, totally practical human activity. To my mind, midwifery is really inextricable from our humanity. I see authentic midwifery as essential to human flourishing.
I believe that as long as human beings remain fertile, as long as sexuality remains the primary modality for human procreation, as long as there are some humans left on the planet who are committed to embodiment and to living, to some degree anyway, in accordance with the rhythms of the natural world, there will be women who are willing to sit with their sisters as they give birth in power and self-determination.
I think that there are many forces at play right now that are quite successfully, in some cases, convincing quite a large proportion of people that relinquishing our humanity and embracing a kind of cyborgicity is a good idea. I really do think that we’re living through a very, very potent time during which, maybe more blatantly than ever before, we’re being offered a Faustian bargain. We’re being presented with the option of moving in the direction of a sort of cyborg future or remaining human.
All of that is really front and center right now. But I think that gesture has been in play for many, many years, many, many generations, and the erosion of these really authentic human connections is a big part of that. And I think we see that again in many, many different ways. One of those ways that has been really present in my own life is what I’ve seen happen to the idea of midwifery.
Around 40–50 years ago, the sort of shift away from what I understand to be authentic midwifery started to happen in a very interesting, insidious way. But let me kind of backpedal.
I have to believe that there was a time when women were honored for our quite special intimate connection to the divine source of all life. Just the fact that life moves through us and we bring babies into the world? To my mind, it’s kind of undeniably magical and divine and spiritual and gorgeous. This is just the essence of who we are. Aren’t we magical creatures?
But I also have to believe in this sort of idea I have that, at the time, men were also honored as the powerful protectors and creatures that they are. We honored each other, and there was some semblance of integration.
I really can’t pretend that I understand what’s been going on in the world, but I know that there’s something that is happening. I have this sense that something happened to our ancestors, that there was some kind of rift or cleavage that was embedded in human culture on the basis of differences and distinctions that are actually perfect.
For example, these perfect differences between men and women, I think have really been twisted by, I have this urge to say, the forces of evil, and it’s hard not to go there when things are so bombastically strange in the world right now.
But I think that there has been this sort of underlying fracture and discord and power struggle that’s been at play for a long, long time, and in each generation that erupts in different ways.
When I look at what’s happened to midwifery as an example of this kind of rupture, it’s really interesting to me to note that in the 1600s, midwives were very deliberately driven underground. Kind of driven out of communities by this emerging institution of allopathic medicine. At that time, that particular iteration of this revolution was very blatant. The state came along, and they were kind of in cahoots with all of these guys who wanted to make a lot of money by selling snake oil. That’s quite literally true. When you look at the history of so-called modern medicine, there were certain very wealthy families that were involved in that, and one of the reasons that they had this plan to create this institution that has become what we understand to be modern medicine is that they had all these petroleum products that they needed to offload. They wanted to figure out a way of making money.
It’s very funny to me that the expression “snake oil salesmen” is used to denigrate, most often these days, natural healers, naturopaths, independent healers of various kinds, and yet it was quite literally the first doctors who were selling potions made up of snake oil. These were the first iterations of pharmaceuticals.
When you look back at what happened to midwives, when modern medicine was first coming to the fore, that was done in a very overt way. “These women are crazy. We have all of the modern amenities; you should come to us instead.”
What has happened recently is pretty much exactly the same thing that was once done, in a slightly different way, with a little bit more subtlety.
There was in the 1960s and ’70s a real resurgence in natural birth and forms of holistic midwifery, essentially a revitalization of independent, grassroots midwifery.
And about 40 or 50 years ago, really in the ’80s and ’90s, the government started to realize that this movement was gaining too much power, too much enthusiasm. There were too many women who were interested in this, and so instead of driving midwives and midwifery away aggressively, the tactics in this case were a little bit different.
What they did instead was go to these independent midwives and say, “We see what you women are up to, and we really think it’s wonderful. We would really love it if we could support you in becoming legitimate, and we want to help you. And we also want to help women because women are a little fragile, and they have a really hard time figuring things out and making decisions for themselves.” [Laughs]
“If we could welcome you under the umbrella of this brilliant institution of modern medicine that we’ve created, then we could offer you the additional training that you clearly need, and we could offer you insurance. We could offer you a way of becoming legitimized in the eyes of society. Because right now, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but people kind of see you as a little bit nutty; you’re a little bit out-there. You’re a little bit rough around the edges. We could clean you up really nicely and put you through some remedial medical training, give you this insurance, and we could even pay your paychecks. And wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a regular paycheck from the state instead of having to trade your services for chickens when attending a birth or a barrel of apples? It’s very precarious work.”
Most midwives, sadly, said yes to this kind of idea. What we’ve seen over the past 40–50 years, is essentially the allopathic medical community appropriating not only the term midwife, but also the practice of midwifery, and it has been kind of transformed into what is essentially, in my view, a branch of modern allopathic, industrial, pharmaceutical medicine. That’s kind of how I see things in a nutshell.
I just kind of rambled on there. [Laughs] I hope I sort of answered your question. Hopefully that gives a bit of an overview of how I see what’s become of midwifery.
KIM: Yeah. I was thinking that the same thing has happened with, say, naturopathy. The idea of these people who were maybe more grassroots—herbal medicine essentially would’ve been their major tool, and then other modalities as they’ve evolved. But the naturopath is the exact same thing. They maybe were thought of as fringe or marginalized, so how would you trust your health to somebody like that?
Then I think also, the people in that profession, being sensitive to that label and that energy being thrust upon them, said, “Oh well, we could legitimize ourselves if we just adopt more of their practices or take on more of their regulations. Then we will present a more unified front and a more respectable veneer to the public.” Then they slowly morphed into the machine that they were originally in opposition to, at least as a choice for people.
I’ve seen that very much, especially over what’s happened in the last year and a half, where people I thought would’ve taken a stronger stand or been more vocal about things have really just let themselves be enveloped by that system and that overarching doctrine.
The way that you’ve described that process is quite deliberate to bring these people into the fold. Better the enemy that you know versus the one you don’t know or however you might phrase that; they’re now semi-allies but also always at risk of being dismissed from that position of pseudo-respectability. If they do question something, then they could be completely thrown out of the club and ousted.
There’s a certain allure to that, I think, for people. They’re then enshrined in this area of respectability that doctors are typically given in our culture, where we’re taught to really see them as the holders of power. They have their white priest-like robes; they are the intermediaries just like priests between God and the human body. The doctor is now the intermediary between the person and his or her own body.
I think that divide now is becoming ever greater between those who choose to give away and outsource their power and their responsibility for their health in general, and then very much so in modern birth, versus women taking power back for themselves and birthing their babies in a way that’s independent of outside interference.
I think that most people come into birth and have perhaps that more traditional idea of the midwife as being a supporter of women, being an ally, helping the woman to listen to her own body, helping her to remove any blockages and fears that she might have, and just being a real support. But I know now that in operation, midwives are subject to so many regulations, just like in a hospital. There are certain time limits on things; if certain things happen, they’re required by law to follow certain directives.
A woman might join forces with a midwife, thinking that she’s made that choice to be outside of the system, only to realize, sometimes not until she’s in labor and she comes upon a moment that there is a crossroads, that she’s actually really in the system.
YOLANDE: Absolutely. That happens with such immense frequency, it’s really kind of mindboggling. A huge portion of the work that I do is debriefing women about their birth experiences. Quite literally I get daily stories from women who, like you said, have only recognized the underlying relational dynamic they have with their midwife, sometimes, like you said, in the midst of the birth process, and it really does function often as a kind of bait-and-switch.
This is such a delicate thing in some ways because I think in some cases, individual midwives themselves are not fully aware of this dynamic. Just as the process of moving through medical school is a form of hazing and indoctrination, it’s not terribly different now when someone moves through the process of becoming a regulated midwife. Because in most jurisdictions, in Canada certainly, and I think for the most part, in the US, becoming a midwife often requires a four-year medical experience. Most midwives are trained with other sort of institutionally minded midwives, often with OBs in a clinical setting, and so it doesn’t even really resemble what a lot of people have in mind when they think of midwifery.
Authentic midwifery is, as far as I’m concerned, by definition, grassroots, unregulated, unaffiliated with any outside institution or governing body. To my mind, anything less than total independence on the part of the midwife to serve the woman with whom she is in relationship really represents a hierarchical dynamic of control and power and authoritarianism that I think is antithetical to the integrity that I believe is really required in order for a woman to truly give birth in her potency.
It’s very unfortunate because, yeah, most women are not aware of the politics that underlie a lot of this stuff, but I don’t think that it’s possible to serve conflicting interests. I think it’s very, very important for women, when they’re interviewing midwives and looking into the possibilities for their birth, to, among many other things, find out who it is that pays that midwife’s paycheck. Because if it’s not the pregnant woman herself, then that midwife is not answerable to her.
As far as I’m concerned, as a mother, as a birthing woman, I’m not having anyone near me who isn’t answerable only to me.
KIM: That’s such a huge thing. I was telling a friend recently about another friend of mine who just gave birth. She was pregnant and didn’t see a doctor, didn’t see a midwife, decided to do a completely free birth from start to finish. Didn’t see a single outside source to tell her the truth of her own body. My friend was both shocked and happy. “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that!”
Because we’ve all been so brainwashed to think that the first thing you do when you’re pregnant is to go to the OB/GYN, and then they tell you about what’s going to happen with your body and your pregnancy and your birth. It just never occurred to my friend that a woman could do that and just follow the innate truth of her own body and the millennia of encoded genetic experiences within her that would, just like any other animal in the animal kingdom, tell her exactly what to do all throughout her entire experience. I think that’s the case for most people.
When I was pregnant, I intuitively had that sense of free birthing, even though I didn’t have a name for it. I didn’t even know what that was. I just said, “I don’t need to see a doctor,” I thought, “Maybe I should get a midwife.” And somebody described what they call a radical midwife, which I guess is the terminology for someone more independent. We traded a canoe for the birth! [Laughs] I was laughing when you made those analogies of a bag of apples and stuff; yeah, we traded a canoe for the birth! [Laughs]
YOLANDE: [Laughs] That is so delightful! I love hearing that so much. I love it. Right now I’m pregnant with my ninth baby [laughs] and throughout my previous seven pregnancies, I’ve had absolutely no interaction whatsoever with any professionals of any kind at all, including midwives, authentic midwives, traditional birth attendants. Simply because I don’t require any of that. I did feel that I wanted that kind of motherly support during my first and second pregnancies and birth experiences, and those were wonderful. I did find an amazing underground midwife to support me, who was truly independent, after I actually experienced a little taste of what industrial midwifery can look and feel like. I ended up severing my relationship with my regulated midwife and actually actively seeking out this illegal, underground woman who a lot of people in the community had very strong feelings about in both directions.
KIM: I know who she is!
YOLANDE: [Laughs] Yeah! I really had to tune into my own inner voice. But yeah, as far as I’m concerned, pregnancy is not even remotely a medical event, let alone a pathology. It’s a spontaneous biological experience, like making love, doing whatever, you know, digesting. It’s just something that I have the power to enact simply by virtue of being a human woman.
Yeah, it’s not anything that I even really think that much about anymore, although my life is really birth; but when it comes to my own birth, it’s just another day. It’s the most miraculous experience. I love giving birth.
It’s very interesting to share some of that with people that I encounter in the world, because I often get responses like, “Are you allowed to do that? Am I allowed to give birth like the human being that I am?” It’s very, very interesting, and again, it’s really reflective of the degree of intense programming that we’re all subject to, to certain degrees.
KIM: Yeah, absolutely. I think that sex and birth, the beginning and the end of that whole process, are two of the biggest places where there is the most programming and brainwashing. My philosophy around sex has always been that everybody is a powerful, innate, natural lover, and the only thing that gets in the way of that is cultural programming, trauma, conditioning, brainwashing that’s been imposed upon that natural ability. A huge part of my work is just removing those layers off the person to reveal what’s in everyone.
I guarantee that everybody has that within them. It’s just that it’s covered over in varying degrees from experiences in the culture at large, and the same thing applies to birth; every woman can have an orgasmic birth, a free birth, a completely led-from-within birth without needing any kind of outside direction, but she may need to do a lot of deprogramming to get there.
YOLANDE: Absolutely. I completely agree. I do. In that sense, I really see, again, authentic midwifery not as a practice or a profession whose purpose is to impose anything on; it’s not even a medical thing, in my experience. It’s really a spiritual calling, and it’s about simply supporting the mother in discovering who she is and moving through this amazing process.
KIM: You’re a big proponent of free birth, and I’ve talked to you before about that. Ultimately, when I started doing a deep dive into modern birthing practices a few years ago, I came across the idea that free birth was an articulation of what I had felt intuitively about how the birth and pregnancy process ought to go in my own life years ago. But it’s a movement now. It has a label, this idea of free birth.
How would you describe free birth and the difference between having a more authentic midwife versus a free birth experience?
YOLANDE: This is an interesting question. I think this very conversation is really illustrative of the fact that birth has become so weirdly politicized. We have doulas now, certified doulas; there are different levels of certification. There’s this idea of scope of practice for doulas. Midwifery has become so highly medicalized, as I’ve described, and then there’s also this free birth movement.
I think the way that I define free birth—and this is up to every woman; I’m not in the business of policing anyone—language is very important. I really believe that language creates our reality and that those who control or assume the right to name things or to establish the meaning of words have a lot of power. I do think that it’s very important, to me anyway, to remain as conscious as I can about the words that I use.
I define the idea or the word “free birth” to mean a woman who births without the presence of anyone in her space who has any particular training or with whom there’s any kind of financial exchange, because I’ve experienced both. I gave birth to my first two babies in the presence of a truly independent, traditional birth attendant who did call herself a midwife when she supported my births. But on account of the political situation in Canada at the time, a couple of years later, she began to use the term “traditional birth attendant” for herself. Because truly independent midwifery has become criminalized in Canada, believe it or not, and it is in many places. That whole issue has kind of touched most of the world now.
I use the term free birth to denote a woman who has consciously chosen to not have anyone present at her births, because I experienced what it was like to truly be supported by a woman who I saw as an authority in birth but who I also knew was never going to position herself as an authority over me. I feel like that distinction between being an authority in this process versus being an authority over the birthing woman is very, very important.
I had six free births, and during those birth experiences, I didn’t have anyone present with me whom I had hired or whose services I had engaged or who was there in any capacity to support me as an authority in the birth process. Those experiences were very, very different.
I’ve also spent a lot of years working as a traditional birth witness, which is what I call myself, because I’m not legally allowed to use the term midwife. I have very mixed feelings about that, but I’m playing the game, as we all have to, to some degree.
I really understand very deeply that the moment that I cross the threshold into the home of a mother who has hired me to be present with her and to witness her birth, which is how I describe the work that I do, the energy of the room changes; the atmosphere changes. Her energy shifts, and I have a lot of power. Again, it’s not power over; it’s power in the sense of presence, and in a way, as a kind of guide of sorts.
The reason that I’m very specific about the way that I use the term free birth is because long live midwifery. I want to stand for the preservation of what I see as authentic midwifery, even if there are lots of situations where I can’t really call it midwifery because the whole conceptualization of what midwifery is has shifted so much, and it’s become so politicized.
Does that make some sense? [Laughs]
KIM: When you said that you’re aware that when you step into a room, the energy changes, what do you mean?
YOLANDE: I mean that there’s a reason that women reach out to engage my services or engage the services of a traditional birth attendant, just as there are reasons why women reach out and engage the services of a midwife. That’s because they are looking for someone to be with them that they really trust and who understands birth and who can serve in a kind of a leadership role during their birth experience.
That’s really what I was looking for when I was a 19-year-old pregnant mother, and I knew that I wanted to experience birth in my full autonomy. But I also didn’t necessarily feel comfortable having a total free birth by myself in a cabin in the woods.
Actually, I had planned to do that initially. I had hired this regulated midwife when I first became pregnant. I very quickly realized that she was not capable of or willing to offer me what I wanted, which was support completely on my own terms. It became very clear that she was answerable to the government. She had a lot of restrictions placed on her, or a lot of restrictions that she accepted, that she was happy to work under for her paycheck, and that wasn’t going to work for me.
I disconnected myself from her, and I decided at that point that I didn’t want anything to do with that. I wanted nothing to do with any of those people. I was going to give birth by myself in the middle of the woods. No one was going to be around; that was the end of it.
As my pregnancy progressed, I actually had fear. I didn’t know what to expect, and I realized near the end of my pregnancy that I really did want a wise woman there with me. I wanted a kind of guide. I wanted someone to reassure me when I was in the midst of what can really feel like some deep, dark, shadowy places. I think birth does take us to those places often. Not always, and I love, love, love the story of orgasmic, purely blissful births, but the birth experiences that I’ve had that have taken me to the edge of the abyss have been incredibly powerful and precious. I love those births so much.
I think I sensed that birth holds that possibility as well. That possibility of really encountering our darkest, deepest fears, and I felt like I really wanted a wise woman with me.
I think that’s what women are looking for when they engage my services as well. When I say that the energy shifts, there is a sense of real responsibility that I have to the women who hire me to be present with them.
Again, another distinction that I think is really important is that I don’t have responsibility for them. I have a responsibility to them to show up and to just love them and to validate the experience that they’re having and, in some cases, to take certain actions that will facilitate the experience for them.
So yeah, it is a different thing. There is a different quality to the experience of giving birth when you’ve invited into your space a woman that you see as having some experience that you want to draw from, and there’s a really big difference that I can pick up on as a birth attendant in the space of birth that I’ve experienced myself as a mother. When I’ve invited that wise woman into my space versus being in the sort of delicious, intense, sometimes terrifying depths of birth, and kind of looking up for a moment, looking for my midwife, realizing that there’s no one there. It’s actually all me.
And I love that too. Both are experiences that I’m so grateful to have had, and they’re very different.
KIM: As you described what you just did, what came to mind for me was the idea of a shaman. Somebody who is an experienced walker between realms. I guess everyone can see it differently, but in my view, they’re a bit of a looker-outer. They’re standing back, but they’re just kind of watching you as you get familiar with these new territories. As you’re traversing into other dimensions. And really, it’s similar experiences, on the cusp of life and death, to me, which I see that portal of birth as being.
And I do think that the more that women go inward and rely upon their own inner guidance to traverse that experience, the greater the rewards. That, to me, is the largest thing that I see being withheld from women in this entire discussion and arena of birth; the more medicalized, industrialized, and interfered with that birth is, the more not only are there untold and massive damages, lifelong implications, and traumas from those experiences, but the more the woman is deprived, and it’s not even acknowledged, of the massive, massive, gift of rebirthing, self-actualization, and power that is granted to her from moving through that portal of her own accord.
I think the midwife, in her ultimate capacity, is there as a potential way-guider, if needed, but with the gentlest of touches, knowing—and I think this is the crucial difference—that the woman would be deprived of the gift of that experience if the midwife were to take too strong of a hand.
If it’s absolutely necessary—though that’s such a massive topic on its own, defining what’s absolutely necessary, as many things are told to women in the hospital experience that are really not necessary—her job is to just stand back and to give a wide berth and let the woman do. The midwife knows that the woman could be, as I said, deprived of the power and of the gifting of that experience that she might only have once in her life. She only may have one opportunity. You’re having nine, but some women may just have one shot at this experience.
And that’s not to put pressure on women as an achievement; it’s just what I try to reiterate to women. They’re missing out on probably the biggest gift of being a woman, the act of giving birth, and the more women do that as this grand, spiritual fulfillment initiation, the more they get a massive change from that.
I would say that you stand out to me, particularly watching you in recent times. Your voice has become stronger and more fearless, and maybe it was already, but to me, it’s just much louder in that way now. In a positive way. It’s very strong and “take it or leave it; this is who I am. These are my beliefs. I’m putting them out there because I need to as my own self-expression. Fending off the haters.” And I feel like there’s such a huge correlation between self-ownership as a direct result of birthing in that way, of self-actualizing the gift of birthing in this much more autonomous way.
KIM: You’re trying to think of a humble way to say, “Yeah!”
YOLANDE: [Laughs] I would not be the person that I am, and I adore myself, if I had not had the birth experiences that I’ve had over the years. Birth has really allowed me to love myself completely and to feel the kind of confidence I feel in being exactly who I am.
I do see so much of what is done to women in their birth experiences, especially women who want nothing more than to have a full, powerful, autonomous experience, and then who end up having their births sabotaged. I see it as a form of theft. I really do.
It’s sort of theft in the name of industrial pharmaceutical profit, in many ways. Indirectly. Again, individual actors within these systems are not themselves intending harm, and that’s also why this is such a nefarious kind of setup.
It’s so important to me to speak all of this out loud so that women are in a position to explore these details more fully and to really make powerful choices for themselves. Because on one hand, victimization is absolutely real. Coercion is absolutely real, and we all have a choice as to how we respond to experiences that we’ve had in our lives, and personal responsibility is such an essential part of all of this.
I just recently supported a client of mine in her first vaginal birth, which was also a free birth, and she had had four surgical births prior to this. Not only that, but she herself was born by C-section; her mother was born by C-section; and her grandmother was born by C-section. This woman just completely transformed her entire lineage. I think that works both forward and backward. She’s shifted her story for her children, for her daughters.
But I think there’s also something interesting that happens, I don’t know, maybe on the quantum level, when we make those sorts of shifts. Because I feel like that affects the way that a woman conceives of her past as well. It just shifts her entire story.
Yeah, birth is incredibly powerful, and one of the ways that the insidiousness of this industrialized system touches everything. The medical system is not just the medical system. It’s also the academic realm. These influences that we’re really seeing playing out in such a dramatic way in the world right now have sort of infiltrated every institutional system, I think, in modern life.
But part of the way these systems work is to downplay and dismiss the significance of the body, of our sexuality, and the significance of birth. We hear these whispers all the time that are really knit into the culture. In movies and TV shows and every piece of culture that touches on birth; it’s like birth is a joke. It’s gross, disgusting, insignificant; all that matters is a healthy baby. Surgical birth is totally normalized. Oh, and you probably want a surgical birth anyway, to save your vagina. All of this insanity.
It’s heartbreaking because the truth is that birth is everything. It’s the source. It’s our deepest and most profound connection to ourselves, the universe, God, whatever you want to call it.
KIM: Right. Along with that, the idea that the more gentle and loving the birth, the more that’s imprinted on the baby, which is what I think you’re signifying, which is so miraculous; this woman’s story of having that much imprinting upon her nervous system of that kind of surgical crisis–oriented, life or death. This is a dramatic, stressful experience. All of that, those chemicals even, connect to that.
The amount of rewiring that she would’ve done to get to that place of having what she did as an exorcism of those previous experiences is miraculous.
But that’s what most people are up against. The opposite of that is coming into the world with such a much more loving, calm, connection to the divine. Really understanding that portal opening is between worlds, the portal between life and death. A gateway to the other world and these energies coming through us and then such a different, loving, calm, peaceful experience imprinted upon both the mother and the baby. The mother then walks away with a sense of having achieved this incredible thing, knowing she can do anything.
Then with a child coming through in love and sometimes even in orgasm. [Laughs] In sheer bliss, which is how many women describe their experiences when they’ve done this work to extract themselves out of the dominant narrative.
YOLANDE: Absolutely. I’m really glad you mentioned that because in my description of “birth is this and that,” I think it could be interpreted that I’m forgetting about the baby in all of this. And that’s sort of one of the unfortunate charges that are often laid on women who make these sorts of birth choices that fall outside of the mainstream. “Well, how can you be so selfish? You’re just wanting to have some kind of experience for yourself. Why don’t you think about the well-being of your baby?”
It’s really revelatory of how this culture sees human beings, because women are their babies. We are so totally interdependent with our children, and the process of moving through this kind of ecstatic, blissful birth experience is absolutely rooted in how much we care for the well-being and the protection of our children.
You’re absolutely right. The impacts of industrial birth on a newborn baby are held in ourselves for our entire lives. The vast majority of human beings on the planet right now are walking around carrying really serious wounds and trauma in all kinds of ways, beginning with their experience of being born.
I think birth itself has been manufactured to be a process of indoctrination and hazing in and of itself. Again, it’s one of those situations where it’s so prevalent and close to all of us that most of us can’t really see it for the distorted, dark thing that it really is. I really, really believe that.
Yes, it impacts every system of our bodies. It changes our brains. When babies are welcomed into the world in ecstasy and total love and peace, that also has a very significant impact on everything that comes after. The relationship that mothers have with their babies, just their ability to be resilient in every way—it’s something that I think in some ways is deliberately obscured and really misunderstood by most people.
It’s interesting, too, because these sort of catch-phrases, trends in psychology, have lately included attachment theory. It’s a big one in psychology, in psychological circles, or whatever, and a missing piece in most discussions around attachment theory is the birth experience itself. It’s sort of like life begins when you get home from the hospital, and that’s not true.
KIM: Yeah. I mean, in my work, that’s another huge block. I said earlier, a big chunk of what I do is helping people remove the blockages, the belief systems, the internalized traumas, everything that’s happened to them to obscure their natural sexual expression that’s healthy and beautiful and intuitive.
With birth and talking to women and couples, their births then become one of those experiences that often need to be cleared because they didn’t even consider the fact that they had a really traumatic birth; it was this overhanging cloud on their relationship, on their sex life, because they got the pat on the head. “Well, you have a healthy baby; you’ve got nothing to complain about.” But they walked out of the hospital traumatized.
There’s a term, birth rape, that’s used to describe what happens to women sometimes, and they’re in shock. They have PTSD, but there’s no language, no vocabulary to even consider.
I think that’s really what postpartum depression is. It’s the aftermath of a really, really traumatic birth experience or even mildly traumatic. They’re walking out, and they have no vocabulary to process this because no one has given them the space for that. And in fact, it’s the opposite. “No, it’s normal to be cut open. It’s normal to have all these tubes and things put into you; that’s just normal.” It’s become normalized, but it’s not normal.
That’s become really inciteful for me and the work that I do as part of my checklist. In looking at people, I say, “Well, have you looked here?” Almost everyone would say no, they haven’t considered that as a place to look. I’m trying to find and help them clear their traumas and their blockages.
It’s such a huge one that most people don’t pay credence to because they’ve been told, “It’s nothing. It’s no big deal.”
YOLANDE: Absolutely. I completely agree with you. I don’t ever use the term postpartum depression because I don’t think that it is a thing, really. Whereas I absolutely acknowledge that like you said, PTSD follows the experience of being abused and tortured. And I don’t use that term lightly. I do see industrial birth as a form of torture.
It’s even more torturous in the fact that women are told that this is what we should expect and that this is for their own good. “We did this to save you and your baby,” which is just so often not the case. If you really understand the physiology of birth, and then you start to look at the procedures that are part of the standard hospital system, you start to realize that very few, if any of those standardized procedures, are actually even rooted in so-called science. They are often not only unnecessary but specifically counterproductive and actually create far more problems than they solve.
I do a lot of birth trauma debriefs with women. Often women come to me saying, “You know, I had a pretty good birth, but there are just a couple of things that I think about. I don’t know if maybe they were really necessary. I had postpartum depression for two years following my baby’s birth.”
And I hear a lot, too, “I had postpartum depression,” like it’s something you just catch or it’s something that is to be expected, that it goes hand in hand with becoming a mother. Like motherhood in and of itself is just really depressing.
And we are designed to experience birth as a peak of ecstasy, as a peak of pleasure, as a peak of joy in a person’s life.
I think you and I talked about this before, Kim; during the minutes following birth, a human woman’s body will excrete more oxytocin than at any other time in her life. Our bodies are designed to experience birth as blissful, and we are also designed to experience mothering as blissful. That’s the design.
Even the loveliest and most wonderful, independent free births—that doesn’t mean that motherhood isn’t challenging. Motherhood can be very challenging, but when, in the vast majority of cases, women are supported in giving birth in power, and when they are supported in having that blissful, ecstatic experience, they then are imbued by nature with the capacity to experience those challenges and to also feel so much joy and to handle it and to thrive and to respond to what comes up.
Yes, recovery is sometimes necessary. Resting is important. Recuperation is important. Being cared for is important. Having adequate support is important. There are all kinds of things that are great and important, and we want all of that stuff, yes. But fundamentally, birth is designed to imbue us with the capacity to move forward powerfully and to take on the various challenges that life and motherhood and everything hand to us.
Yeah, it’s a really, really interesting experience to just see the world as it is. I want to also say—this is really, really important to me to always share: I don’t just believe, I know that every human being has the capacity to heal from everything. From any kind of trauma.
I am the product of an incredibly traumatic birth. My mother had a really awful time giving birth to me, and she was abused in ways that are really quite shocking. I was born under the influence of numerous drugs. I was pulled from my mother’s body and taken into another wing of the hospital, where I spent the first, I think 12 hours of my life, in an incubator drinking sugar water from a bottle, and that experience has impacted me immensely. And it’s also given me a lot of interesting perspective that I think has helped me in many ways.
I don’t know if we can ever get over that. We carry all of our experiences with us. But I do feel like my own births and my own children’s births have done a lot to heal me in a really profound way as well.
I don’t want any women who are listening to this, whose own entry into the world was fraught or who had really traumatic birth experiences with the births of their babies, to think that they’re doomed in whatever way, because I really don’t think that’s the case.
Again, it’s a situation where once we become aware of these dynamics or once we choose to be aware of these dynamics, there are infinite ways of healing from all of this and moving forward in our lives really powerfully.
KIM: I love all of that. I love the idea that the passage through birth gives us the tools to be more empowered mothers because we’re empowered through the birth experience, and that is the gift of it, spiritually speaking. Also, like you said, if that wasn’t the case for people in their own experience or the children that they’ve had, I believe that everything can be healed.
I think what I often say to people, though, is that instead of defending the system that harmed us, we acknowledge that and then do better. Now that we know better, we can do better, and maybe our chance at having that birth has passed, but going forward, we can inform our friends and our nieces and our daughters and our sons about it.
I think that reflexive denial is really strong, especially when the culture at large is completely supporting that narrative to then recognize and grieve what’s happened and acknowledge what’s happened as a trauma, an insult, a violation, something that wasn’t necessary, and then claim that. To me, that’s what healing is. It’s that reclamation and ownership and then saying, “Okay, I can’t change what’s happened to me, but I can pay it forward. I can help and share what I’ve learned with other people,” and that is in itself healing, rather than that misguided impulse to defend and deny that no, that was necessary or whatever. That just keeps the pain cycle going.
YOLANDE: Absolutely. I see a lot of trauma-ladenness to the system. I think it is initially very painful for people to acknowledge that what was done to them was unnecessary, abusive, a violation, because in part, it sort of uncovers a form of vulnerability that is really hard to come to terms with for many people.
But I think it also has the effect in many cases of putting people in a position where they have no choice but to question a lot of these structures that we sometimes build our lives around. That can be very confronting as well.
I know so many women for whom opening themselves up to their own power and birth and, in some cases, to the ways that they were violated and the ways that that power was taken from them in birth, was the entry point to questioning so many of the other systems in the world. It’s a project. It can feel like everything is falling apart a little bit.
That’s also being reflected right now in the larger world. Everything really is falling apart. I think it’s great in many ways. I think it’s really interesting and exciting, and we are creating space for a different way of living and a different way of approaching life.
But I also wanted to just say something briefly about what you mentioned about how incredibly healing it is to simply acknowledge how these experiences have impacted us and that what was done to us was wrong. Simply that is hugely healing, for sure.
In my own case, I think one of the things I really like about myself is that I’m continuously up for interrogating and analyzing and questioning these systems of power. I cannot remember not knowing my own birth story. My mom was just continuously telling me my birth story, and it was always presented as, “This is the way that you were born, and it was absolutely wrong. I was violated. You were taken from me, and I got out of bed the moment that I could feel my legs again, in that open, humiliating, hospital gown that’s open at the back, and I wandered through the hallways.” This was my mother’s story. She wandered through the hallways of the hospital looking for me, and she found me in an incubator. She had a fight with the nurse and insisted on taking me back, and she always told me, from when I was tiny, that birth would be completely different for me.
I know what she meant was that she believed these systems have changed, and the systems haven’t really changed at all. In fact, in 2021, right now, birth is far more brutal and far more abusive than it was in 1981 when I was born, but not in my world.
I’m so grateful to my mother for her courage in really being willing to see that what was done to her was wrong. Simply the way that she told her story was so powerfully healing for me, and it radically changed my life.
KIM: Amazing. I love that. What would you say to women who are pregnant or who might be considering having a baby right now in the state of our very tumultuous world? I know you yourself are pregnant, so what would you say to people? Because some people might be thinking it’s not a good time to have a baby.
YOLANDE: I think many people have had this experience where maybe around February or March of 2020, it sort of felt like it hit you with a ton of bricks. Like, oh wow, everything is changed. And I definitely felt that.
I started to realize that there have been lots of signs throughout my whole life that something is amiss, that we’re living through this very interesting time of transformation. I remember calling my mom around March 2020 and just saying, “I can’t believe this is happening. I have these kids, and I feel like my life is falling apart.” And my mom was so amazing and said, “Who are you to think that you get to have a life of ease and predictability? That’s not what life is about. So, buck up, enjoy, good luck; what are you going to do about it?” I thought, yeah, you’re right. This is really what it is to be alive.
I don’t think there really has ever been a time in history where it makes sense to have a baby. Life really is in flux, and the fact that so many of us have sort felt entitled to stability, predictability, what have you, is not really the way things are.
I actually think that there’s no better time to bring powerful, intelligent, questioning humans into the world. I am very deliberately raising my children to be smart and resourceful and resilient. We never know what’s going to happen, and we can’t know the future.
There are a lot of predictions that are being offered up from every corner, and some of those predictions are really scary and dark. I have to continuously remind myself that we are all in this process together of cocreating the future, and every action that I take in every moment is impacting everyone around me, on my kids, and so we just move forward.
I think it’s probably the best time to have a baby. Why not?
KIM: I love that. I agree. I think we are the creators of our world and instead of buying into a darker narrative, we generate our own. And we do that through birthing our children and educating them and shaping them in ways that make them little truth warriors able to deal with a world in reality. We populate it with our own. [Laughs]
KIM: Thank you. Tell everybody where we can find you. You mentioned that you do one-on-one work. I love this idea of birth trauma debriefing. I know that you have a book coming out.
YOLANDE: I do. I can be found at FreeBirth.ca. I also do some stuff on Instagram at BauHausWife, and I have a YouTube channel as well, where I rant and rave. And my dear friend and colleague Emily Saldaya and I run a school for women who are interested in exploring authentic midwifery and the work of authentic midwifery. That’s at FreeBirthSociety.com.
KIM: Wonderful! Any parting words you’d like to give that we haven’t covered?
YOLANDE: I’ve just loved this conversation so much, Kim. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about it. It really is my passion in life to share this open secret that we’re human, and powerful birth really is available to all of us. It’s a possibility for every woman.
KIM: Awesome. Thank you, Yolande.
YOLANDE: Thank you so much, Kim.
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